Give me some YULETIDE!

My name is Amanda and I listen to Christmas music on November 1st.

There I said it.

Actually, I turned on a little Nat King Cole at the end of our trick-or-treating extravaganza and it was magical. Ya know why? I had four, high-octane sugar-induced children in the car who were literally sending me down the road to Crazytown.  As soon as they heard “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” in that smooth and silky voice…they morphed into June Cleaver’s children. Calm, polite, happy.

I get grief from a lot of people every year about my decision to turn on the holiday tunes early. Apparently, this affects their lives deeply 😉

I hear a variation of “you’re forgetting Thanksgiving! So you’re not thankful for anything? You’re wishing away the year! Enjoy every day!!”

Put down the pitch forks and torches for a second. I won’t come over to your house draped in garland and Christmas lights and expect to start caroling with you.

For me, November 1st signifies the beginning of the holiday season. I know in a few short weeks that Thanksgiving will be here…which means family, food, that glorious post-meal nap and more food.  My oldest and I head out late at night to do some shopping…not really to buy anything, but to drink hot chocolate together and walk around stores in the middle of the night (it’s her favorite night because it’s just us). The day after, we all put our finest elastic-waistband pants on and head to downtown Cedar Falls for Holiday Hoopla. There’s really nothing better than small-town America lit up with Christmas lights. And then the next few weeks are my absolute favorite…to see the magic of the season through my children’s eyes. And let’s be honest, my house stays pretty clean throughout the holiday season because “SANTA IS WATCHING!!” I wait all dang year to use that line.

But let me break it down even simpler: Christmas music makes me happy. Not only does it make me excited for the magic…but it takes me back to when I was a kid.

I’m right back to being a kid in my pajamas in the back of the minivan with my brother and sister while our parents drive us around to look at Christmas lights. I’m in my footie PJs on the floor in the family room as I circle EVERYTHING in the giant JC Penny’s Christmas catalog. (I never got that Pac-Man arcade I wanted lol) Building snowmen and forts outside and then coming in for my Dad’s famous Nestle Quick hot chocolate on the stove…with toast of course.  Getting dressed up for Candlelight Mass at midnight while having butterflies in my stomach because I was so excited for Santa.  Sliding down the stairs Christmas morning to see all of those perfectly wrapped presents and overflowing stockings. Then we’re all sitting around my mom’s beautifully decorated Christmas table…and everyone is there. My Grandma Grace, Uncle Kenny, Uncle John & Aunt Marie…all of the people who made every Christmas so special and memorable are there…instead of in heaven.

After a year of medical issues, sleepless nights, bills, more bills, stories of children in our community being abused, children who will never come home again and everything in between…I want instant happiness injected into my life. Christmas music does that for me.

So if you get into my car or come over to my house, expect to be joined by Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole.

It’s more than just music for me.

It’s about the memories of the past…

And the magic to come.

 

 

“The Last Time”

At the end of every day, you will always find me in the La-Z-Boy recliner. Aria is always snuggled into the nook on my left side…Luciana crawls to sit on my right side. I was scrolling through my phone when I saw a beautiful picture that literally made me tear up. It was a friend of mine…she was holding her 12-year-old daughter…the same way we hold our itty-bitty ones.

She was talking about a poem she read that says “a parent puts their child down and never picks them up (quite the same) ever again.” I knew exactly what poem she was talking about. I popped it up on my phone to re-read it.

Now we don’t know who wrote this poem, but grab the tissues. No seriously…you need tissues for this:

“From the moment you hold your baby in your arms,
you will never be the same.
You might long for the person you were before,
When you have freedom and time,
And nothing in particular to worry about.

You will know tiredness like you never knew it before,
And days will run into days that are exactly the same,
Full of feedings and burping,
Nappy changes and crying,
Whining and fighting,
Naps or a lack of naps,
It might seem like a never-ending cycle.

But don’t forget …
There is a last time for everything.
There will come a time when you will feed
your baby for the very last time.
They will fall asleep on you after a long day
And it will be the last time you ever hold your sleeping child.

One day you will carry them on your hip then set them down,
And never pick them up that way again.
You will scrub their hair in the bath one night
And from that day on they will want to bathe alone.
They will hold your hand to cross the road,
Then never reach for it again.
They will creep into your room at midnight for cuddles,
And it will be the last night you ever wake to this.

One afternoon you will sing “the wheels on the bus”
and do all the actions,
Then never sing them that song again.
They will kiss you goodbye at the school gate,
The next day they will ask to walk to the gate alone.
You will read a final bedtime story and wipe your last dirty face.
They will run to you with arms raised for the very last time.

The thing is, you won’t even know it’s the last time
Until there are no more times.
And even then, it will take you a while to realize.

So while you are living in these times,
remember there are only so many of them
and when they are gone, you will yearn for just one more day of them.
For one last time.”

Just pull my heart out and call it a day!!

The cliché saying: the days are long but the years are short is so darn true…and it hurts.

I looked over to the couch where my oldest daughter and son were sitting. Just a few years ago it was Gia who wanted to dress up like a Disney princess or curl up on the recliner with me. Now she is wearing mud masks and telling me she wants to change her look to “vintage.” Umm what?  Nico was just building masterpieces out of the clunky builder blocks and now he has become a pro at coding. Again…um what?

I stared at them a little longer and wondered if they missed me picking them up in my arms. If they missed snuggling into the “nook” or me reading them a book while I played with their hair. I wondered if they missed the showtunes I would sing in a terrible key during a bubble bath or kissing their feet while they laid on the floor.  Did they miss singing Itsy Bitsy Spider over and over again or playing hide-and-seek?

Will they ever know that every last is as emotional as every first for me?

So I decided to do something so they would remember that no matter what, I will always scoop them up in my arms. I will always be their safe place. They will always be my babies.

gia

Maybe the books will change…but I will still read to you.

Maybe the songs will change…but I will still sing to you.

Maybe the things we talk about will change…but I always want to know what you have to say.

Maybe you think you’re too big to be lifted like my baby…but my baby you’ll always be.

So if Mom starts randomly crying — just humor me. I get a little emotional when I look at you four.

The days are OH SO LONG sometimes…but the years are far too short.

 

 

 

Devil in Disguise

“I don’t know if my son is on one of his tapes or not.”

When she said that, I wanted to throw up.

A woman called me yesterday and I could hear the fear and anger in her voice. Her son, who is now in college, played basketball for Greg Stephen.

“I know you write about this, Amanda. I need your help.”

Stephen was a coach and co-founder of the Iowa Barnstormers AAU team. He was popular…well-liked…respected.

greg

Stephen admitted to sexually exploiting AT LEAST 400 young boys by secretly recording them.

He first told investigators he made the videos to observe the “growth and development” of the players.

Liar.

He took videos of himself fondling young players as they slept.  He disguised cameras in smoke detectors and bath towels so he could record them taking showers.  He pretended to be a girl on social media to trick them into masturbating on camera. When his home and lake house in Delhi were searched, investigators say they found even more recording devices and a hard drive that included 400 FOLDERS with the names of different boys. 400 FOLDERS. Each one had at least one type of explicit photo or video of their genitals. There are reports that he crawled into bed with young boys during out-of-town trips for games.

The victims range in age of 11-17.

400 victims.

There could be hundreds more.

greg stephen

I saw his mugshot and I wanted to rage. Wipe that damn smirk off your face.

This devil was disguised as a great leader for young men…someone who saw budding talent in young men…pushed them towards greatness…made them promises of helping them achieve their dream of playing college ball.

There were long practices…overnight stays…trips to games…camps…great opportunities for kids to go the “extra mile” to prove they wanted to be GREAT.

When in fact it was a playground for a sicko. It allowed him to have access to hundreds of boys to feed his sick and twisted fantasies.

As parents, we talk to our kids about strangers…we don’t let them play outside by themselves…creepy looking vans driving around freak us out…we don’t let them stay home by themselves. We take every measure necessary to protect our children.

But are we unknowingly handing our children over to the devil in disguise?

They say child predators will always groom their victims…they seek opportunities.

Jerry Sandusky started a children’s charity.

Greg Stephen started a youth basketball program.

Prime opportunities.

The devil doesn’t come dressed with a red cape and pointy horns. He comes as everything you have ever wished for.

He knows that…and will prey on that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

INJUSTICE.

Injustice.

Absolute injustice.

I support the law…I support enforcement…but somebody needs to be called out on this one. Somebody needs to explain.

Because as someone who runs a non-profit designed to protect children…I do not understand.

As someone who is a mother to four young children…I do not understand.

As someone who loves her community…I do not understand.

Take a look at this man…

roger

His name is Roger Kline.

He should be spending the rest of his life in prison…but he’s not.

In fact, he won’t be spending any time in prison. He’s headed to a halfway house and then just probation.

All part of a plea deal he was offered.

Three children…all under the age of 11…were kidnapped.  Kline ripped them from their home. He shoved them in the back of his semi-truck where he handcuffed them and then drove them to an eastern Iowa park where he sexually abused them.

HE KIDNAPPED THEM.

HE HANDCUFFED THEM.

HE SEXUALLY ABUSED THEM.

How does this man get offered a plea deal? Don’t say it’s because the children would not testify. Don’t put that on three innocent children who were put through hell by a monster. Children should never have to testify. THEY’RE VICTIMS.

Imagine the fear those children went through.

Ripped from the safety of their home…

Thrown in the back of a dirty semi-truck…

Handcuffed to the truck so they can’t run away…

Sexually abused by a strange man.

Those children will never recover…they will never be the same.

And we just sent those children a message that they don’t matter…that what happened to them is no big deal.

A monster SHOULD NOT BE OFFERED A PLEA DEAL. He will strike again.

Something needs to change in Iowa.

You CANNOT hurt a child and get away with it.

Please Iowa…please stand with your children.  If you stand for nothing else, STAND WITH YOUR CHILDREN.

If someone hurts our children, let God have mercy on their soul…because we won’t.

 

 

 

 

Know your worth…

I’m worried that my children’s skin won’t be thick enough for this world we’re in. I saw it all over my 10-year-old’s face this weekend when she had my phone.

She was shopping for Halloween costumes when I heard her gasp. Her eyes were big and filled with tears and her hand was over her mouth. “Mom…”

I took the phone from her and I saw another message pop up on my professional Facebook page. It was from the same woman I “exchanged” words with a little earlier. Here’s a screenshot:

rachel

Yep.

(Sigh)

My daughter stared and me…waited for me to say something. Her voice cracked when she said, “I am sorry, Mom. That’s so mean. Are you ok?”

The truth is…I was fine until I saw how upset my daughter was.  Thankfully (unlike me), she has never been on the receiving end of unsolicted nastiness before. I pray that it stays that way but come on…we all know how the world works.

I can handle messages like this…I have for years.  But there are young people out there who get messages like this DAILY. Vile messges full of nastiness, hate and ugliness come at them through text, email or Snap Chat. When we’re young, we don’t grasp the fact that nobody else defines us.  When we’re young we don’t truly understand that when someone is acting nasty, then there’s something going on in their own world. When we’re young and someone says this kind of stuff to us, we feel hopeless and worthless.

A friend always tells me “hurt people…hurt people.”

Yes it’s true…but I am getting tired of giving people a free pass.  I’m sorry that you’re hurting…I truly am. But that does not give anyone a right to wage a full-on verbal assault…especially to a STRANGER.

I think people need to be held accountable for what they send someone via email, text or social media. And don’t come at me with Freedom of Speech.  Yes we have that right but we are not free from consequences. Messages like the one I got over the weekend ARE KILLING OUR CHILDREN. Messages like the one I got are pushing our children OVER THE EDGE.

Messages like the one I got over the weekend from an ADULT are serving as an example to kids: IT’S OKAY TO TALK TO PEOPLE LIKE THIS.

It was important my daughter knows this: The nasty girl at the 7th grade lunch table sometimes grows up and morphs into a normal looking mom.  But she never outgrew that mean-girl behavior, in fact, it has probably gotten worse because she has gotten away with it for so long.  You can’t change her. You can only control how you respond. Know your worth. So when people call you names like fake, fat and ugly…you know you’re better than that.

Be kind.

Even to mean people.

Even when your blood is boiling…

Even when your east coast temper is about to come unhinged…

Even when you’re tempted to share the name of the person who sent the message…

Even when you’re at your breaking point…

Be kind.

 

 

Cutting out the unnecessary

A friend of mine in her early 30s found her first signs of crows feet. By her reaction I didn’t know if she needed talked off the ledge or a bottle of wine. She jokingly asked me, “Is it all downhill from here?”

When it comes to fine lines and gravity…yes. Yes it is 😉

She looked shocked when I told her that when I turned 40, life got better. (Gravity still stunk but whatever lol).

Being 40+ is a beautiful thing for one major reason: you finally learn to cut all of the unnecessary BS out of your life and you stop apologizing for it.

With unnecessary BS, comes unnecessary people.

When I turned 40, I realized that I no longer have the energy for meaningless friendships, forced interactions or unnecessary conversations. 

It. Is. Liberating.

It’s refreshing to finally admit “ya know…I don’t like that person…so no, I don’t want them in my circle or even on the outer layer of my circle.”

I used to feel really bad for thinking things like that or even saying them out loud…but now, I am making no apologies.

The people with ulterior motives…the people who are as authentic as my hair extensions…the people who are your friend on social media only so they can obviously troll you because they have never liked or commented on a picture…the people who smile to your face in public when they clearly can’t stand you.

Those are unnecessary people in my life.

I don’t like everyone…and that’s ok.

Not everyone likes me…and that is ok.

I have been unfriended, blocked and everything in between. It used to bother me in my “younger” years…it would actually keep me up at night. But once I hit 40, it became more of a relief than anything else.

Why surround yourself with people who obviously don’t care for you? If they want to delete you from their life…let them and don’t give it a second thought.

Admitting that you don’t like or care for someone doesn’t mean you are not KIND.

Admitting that you don’t like someone means that you value your OWN energy, heart and time.

Walk away from the people you don’t want to play with in the sandbox…it’s liberating.

 

 

 

 

Unsolicited advice.

I was in between meetings when I saw the giant red lights…the glorious red circles of Target.

I remember seeing a meme one time that said:  “You don’t go to Target because you need something. You go to Target and let Target tell you what you need.”

True story.

Somehow I walk in for laundry detergent and I walk out with five plants, a new comforter, a cardigan, charcoal face masks and a dog bed. I don’t even have a dog.

So, while I was in the beauty aisle debating whether I needed a new cream to attack my fine lines, I was approached.

“Hi Amanda! I have to say I miss seeing you on TV!”

“Thank you!”

“I really enjoy reading your blog!”

“Thank you, I appreciate that!”

“I have to tell you though…that shade of lipstick is just awful on you. Way too dark. Too much. Keep up the great advocacy for children.”

Well ok.

So I smiled wryly like the Grinch and shoved a giant piece of soft pretzel in my mouth to serve as a muzzle.

She walked away and I stood there continuing to shove the pretzel into my mouth.

I looked in the mirror to examine my choice of lipstick and wondered, “is it too dark? Maybe I did put too much on?”

A stranger had me second-guessing myself.

Maybe she didn’t know that I just bought that because I wanted to try something new for fall.

Maybe she didn’t know the reason I bought it was to feel a little better about myself.   Truth be told, I saw pictures of myself in that blue dress from the weekend…and I wasn’t impressed. The Spanx weren’t miracle workers after all 😉 So hey, I will wear some dark lipstick to draw the eyes away from my body-in-progress.

Maybe she didn’t know I was going on three hours of sleep because the baby is teething.

Maybe she didn’t know.

And that’s the problem. I could drop some motivational quotes here about “you never know someone else’s struggle” blah blah blah.

My struggles aren’t that severe. Bottom line…I loved the shade of lipstick. So I bought it. And wore it.

Let’s break it down to its simplest form: nobody enjoys unsolicited advice. Nobody. I don’t even like unsolicited advice from my own mother.

Please step in if you notice my child is buckled in her car seat improperly. Please step in if I am being disrespectful or rude. Please step in if my children are being disrespectful or rude.

But if it’s something superficial that you don’t like about someone…maybe count to 10 before you decide to “offer your opinion.”

Because at the end of the day, does anyone’s shade of lipstick affect your day? Maybe that person is too busy trying to help make a difference in their community to be worried about their appearance anymore. Maybe that’s one of the reasons they weren’t sad to leave the TV business.

While some reading this might think, “why are you worried about what one person said? Why would you even blog about this?”

I have been at the brunt of not-so-nice, unsolicited advice for 18 years now. I don’t want to offend or embarrass anyone by writing this…but I have to put my foot down because I am more than a shade of lipstick.

I am more than a hairstyle.

I am more than my wide hips.

I am more than my fine lines.

I am more than my choice of clothes on the weekend.

I am more.

And to the woman in that beauty aisle of Target…

You are so much more than all of that too.